We wrote that some ancient scrolls made of lead and copper that have recently come to light may reveal mysteries of ancient Christianity, but now it looks as if the only thing they reveal is a clever forgery. The covers of the books contain strange sequences of Greek letters next to depictions of a palm tree, a walled city, a crocodile and Alexander the Great. The three lines of Greek all turn out to be variants on the same two puzzling phrases: "Without grief, farewell! Abgar, also known as Eision."

It turns out that these mysterious words are nothing more than copies of a line from an ancient tombstone in Jordan. In the April 6th edition of the Times Literary Supplement, Peter Thonemann notes that "The name Abgar is pretty unusua–might he be attested elsewhere? Half an hour’s work in the library turned up the two phrases in their original context: a perfectly ordinary Roman tombstone from Madaba in Jordan, datable to AD 108/9, and currently on display in the Archaeological Museum in Amman. "For Selaman, excellent man, without grief, farewell! Abgar, also known as Eision, son of Monoath, built this tomb for his excellent son, in the third year of the province."

The Bedouin who brought the codexes to Israel claims that they were discovered in Jordan and had been in his family for generations. Thonemann says that the story told by archeologist David Elkington (the man who announced the discovery) , "has passed through several permutations, the latest of which includes death threats, Mafia-style gangs and the Archbishop of Canterbury."

We recently told you the truth about ANOTHER ancient manuscript, and we corrected ourselves when we discovered we were wrong–and we corrected ourselves THIS time too. Honest reporting like this–free of hype and hysteria–DESERVES your support, so please subscribe today: You won’t have to give up much (the cost of a latte a week?) but you’ll GET so much more!

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